In between tests at the launch site we stay at the cosmonaut hotel. We have a daily programme of work and free time. It is very cold in Kazachstan, around -20 degrees Celsius. So having a jog along the river, as I did last May, when I was here as backup crew for Frank is out of the question. Luckily a well equipped gym is available for us to use. To stay sharp when flying the Sojuz on manual control we practice all types of conditions and dockings every other day in the Sojuz simulator. In reality the chances of me actually having to perform these manoeuvres are very small.

Many colours

The important elements of the simulation are the launch, testing the onboard equipment, orbit corrections, approach, docking, return flight and landing. Our work is based on the most recent procedures. Step by step we follow these with our instructors. We highlight text and take personal notes from our training documents. My colleagues joke that my procedures notes could be sent directly to the Van Gogh museum after the flight because of the many colours I use. In addition to the highlighting I include my own comments in the “crew notes” to be used in the ISS. These will be taken with me in the Sojuz.

We also went through the flight plan and the current situation on the ISS. And we were able to talk to the current crew of the space station: Dan Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin. They look forward to our arrival.

We do not only spend time on our own programme. I have signed over two thousand photos, brochures, flags and more. We have press moments. During all this the doctors and in particular the epidemiologist Dr. Savin keep a close eye on people who have not been medically checked. They are not allowed to approach me and must wear face masks. Shaking hands is forbidden. This takes some getting used to, I often extend my arm out of politeness and habit, only now I withdraw my arm rapidly.